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New York State Pushes for the Deployment of Electric Vehicles

LEYLA DOSS, HOST: President Biden’s new infrastructure plan is taking on the environment including almost $200 billion dollars aimed at getting Americans to switch over to electric vehicles. In New York State transportation is the largest source of greenhouse emissions. More than those from home and commercial buildings combined. Last year Gov. Cuomo also announced an ambitious environmental initiative - to increase the number of electric vehicles in New York State. As Hayley Zhao reports, experts say the governor’s goal is reachable with some policy changes.

HAYLEY ZHAO, BYLINE: John Gilbert is sitting in a shiny dark gray SUV parked on Morningside Drive on Manhattan’s upper west side. He lives in Queens and drives often. He loves the model he’s driving now but it’s just a rental. He plans to get his own car in the next two years, a traditional gasoline car.

JOHN GILBERT: I prefer always on the gas. In the beginning, the electric is good, after five or seven years. It will be some problem on it.

ZHAO: That fear could be a problem for Cuomo because his goal is to have 850,000 electric vehicles on the road within the next four years. Ten times as many as now. But sales of electric cars only make up about two percent of the market nationwide. And many buyers have concerns like Gilbert.

Steve Birkett is an editor at He says one of the main concerns is what’s called “range anxiety.” The fear of running out of power with no charging station nearby before reaching your destination.

STEVE BIRKETT: As you head into the middle of the country, you're talking about more like 150 to 200 miles between some charging stations.

ZHAO: But Birkett says range anxiety shouldn’t be a big concern.

BIRKETT: For most vehicles, they can make that. They could do this mythical trip where all the E.V. critics put out there, what if I need to go to California from the East coast in two days flat? I mean, nobody does that. The reality is you can do it at the moment you're going to have to plan your trip very carefully and it's going to be along select routes.

ZHAO: Birkett says drivers shouldn’t worry about running out of power especially on the east coast. In New York, the number of charging ports has more than doubled in the past year. And Cuomo aims to reach 10,000 charging stations by the end of the year. That’s more than the number of gas stations in the state. Resources for the Future, an environmental non-profit says more than half of American car buyers are willing to consider Electric Vehicles. But as for the other half. Many are still nervous, among other things, about the price. But Birkett says as more manufacturers are introducing new electric vehicle lines, their price has become more competitive.

BIRKETT: You're starting to see them become very similarly priced. Then over the course of, in an E.V.'s lifetime, it's cheaper to own, cheaper to run at least because electricity costs less, maintenance is less, no oil changes.

ZHAO: If you buy a fully electric car in New York State, you can get up to $9,500 in state and federal incentives, which means many E.V.s are now in the same price range as traditional gas cars.

Deb Peck Kelleher is with the non-profit Alliance for Clean Energy New York. She’s optimistic about Cuomo’s goal. But she says first the state needs to change some laws.

KELLEHER: I think it is doable if we make a couple of changes to the way E.V.s are used and bought and sold in our state.

ZHAO: New York State requires all new electric vehicles to be sold through dealerships. But that’s not the way manufacturers like Tesla and Rivian work. They’ve cut out the middleman and sell directly to customers. Which means they’re not allowed to sell in the state. Tesla managed to reach an agreement to open no more than five stores but others are not as lucky. So Kelleher is advocating for a bill introduced in January that would allow direct sales. The bill has been referred to the Senate Transportation Committee. No date has been set yet for a vote. Hayley Zhao, Columbia Radio News.

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